From torn fabric, fraying threads and layered impasto, Manolo Valdés conjures the sumptuously rich collage of Joven con Tocado Rojo (Young Man with Red Headdress), a potent ode to a dilapidated Baroque brilliance. Accumulations of cloth, dyed vermillion and carmine, overlap to suggest the opulent garb of a young man. The swathes of his ostentatious headdress are articulated in pleats and gathers, and defined by the sharp, charcoal line which the artist draws across the fabric, incising his geometric patterns like a tailor. In places, stitched seams track over the surface, trailing long threads which float dramatically, weaving an exquisitely fine tracery. ‘Many times, my brush is dyed fabric that invades my entire studio and my colour palette covers several square meters,’ the artist confessed. ‘Organising that chaos is delicious.’ (M. Valdés, quoted in Manolo Valdés 1981-2006, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2006, p. 22). Over this ramshackle appliqué, Valdés layers his oil paint, mixed to its viscous consistency in the artist’s studio. In peaks of blush and troughs of ruby, in striations of slate grey, the artist’s imprints his brushmarks in the paint, crafting the rich impasto of the youthful face.
Executed in 1992, this work is a captivating example of the artist’s mature painting practice, demonstrating Valdés ’ fragmentation and remaking of the images of art history. Valdés began his artistic career as part of the Equipo Crónica, which appropriated iconic images by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez, turning them into brazen pastiches aimed at challenging the political status quo. In 1981, when Rafael Solbes, his partner in Equipo Crónica passed away, Valdés ’ practice took a turn towards the lyrical, filtering the old masters through an aesthetic vision of texture, colour and light. ‘When I touch on historical painters, I make comments based on the specificity of my language,’ Valdés explained. ‘I am just a narrator who comments on the history of painting in various ways, using new materials: it is like a game that consists of changing the code and the key to the artwork… Many of my colours, materials and textures are the product of relived experiences of other masters. My painting involves much reflection’ (M. Valdés, quoted in Manolo Valdés 1981-2006, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2006, p. 20). In the present work, Valdés draws on the fifteenth-century Florentine portrait attributed to Masaccio, Profile Portrait of a Young Man, in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, paraphrasing the Renaissance likeness into an iteration recognisable only by its soft profile and voluminous turban. In Joven con Tocado Rojo, the historic weight of the image is displaced by Valdés ’ attention to the ornate pieces of his multifarious mosaic, which become the absolute protagonists of this intriguing work.